Why couldn't the studio have left their rags and chamois cloths in the bucket with this film like Judge Ryan Keefer did?
Our review of The Bucket List, published June 10th, 2008, is also available.
When he closed his eyes, his heart was opened.
It's a story that Hollywood has used in various stages before: Get two older characters who are closer to the ends of their lives than the beginning and put them together for a film that's part comedy, part life lesson. Jack Nicholson (The Departed) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) are the latest duo that tries to climb the mountain. The question is, can they do it successfully?
Facts of the Case
The film is written by Justin Zackham (Going Greek) and directed by Rob Reiner (Rumor Has It…), who is reunited with Nicholson from their days doing A Few Good Men. Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a businessman responsible for building several hospitals, presumably in the California area. A medical event lands Edward in one of the hospitals he helped build, and the news is not good; he has cancer. His roommate is Carter (Freeman), who is also terminally ill. The two form a kinship and eventually decide to embark on a quest—the chance to accomplish several once-in-a-lifetime events before they die, fulfilling a "bucket list." And maybe, just maybe, they'll learn something about each other. With that, cue Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill"…
What's disappointing about The Bucket List is that, with a little bit of hard work, it would have been an excellent film. Instead, this comedy-drama isn't all that funny, and hardly provides any real life lesson to speak of. Reiner doesn't think out of the box from Zackham's limited script, and the film seems to suffer from this malaise. The first third of the film is supposed to establish the relationship between the stars, but when it should provide a laugh or two, Reiner just lets you sit there and watch the men do very little. Nicholson spends time watching Freeman spend time with his family and very little else, until they decide to go see Cairo, Mount Everest, and other amazing sights that Earth has to offer…through the eyes of matte painted sets and computer-enhanced effects.
The film's demise is not for a lack of trying by the stars. To be fair, Nicholson and Freeman work well with one another, and the understated chemistry is palpable. Both men have recently entered their 70's and they play on it, providing for the occasional poignant moment here and there. It's when they go back into carrying out the story that the film starts to become a disappointment. Carter discovers some feelings about his marriage he hadn't really given much thought to, until he was facing death. But Freeman seems out of place in the role, partly because he thinks and feels that we don't want to see him try to explain this situation…and he's right. The friendship between Carter and Edward is fun to watch, but manufactured conflict shifts the focus back to Carter's blah story line. There's so many unimaginative ideas employed in just 97 minutes, Appellate Judge Tom Becker summed it up best by saying, "Why bother?"
There are a few more extras here than on the standard DVD, though I can't honestly say it's a good thing. A subtitled "pop-up" track, which purports to show "fun and informative" nuggets related to the film is neither fun nor informative. On the positive side, there are two extended conversations with Rob Reiner and each of the film's stars (Freeman does his via videoconference). They manage to wander off the reservation and talk about things outside of the film, like work on other films, but it's mainly an admiration society. Reiner's rhetoric about how powerful the film is makes for laughs, and the conversations are interesting for a little bit, but otherwise, there's not much brought to the dance. "Writing a Bucket List" is a conversation with Zackham as he discusses the genesis for the story, along with a related book. A video for a song that John Mayer made for the film is included, along with a five-minute making-of look at the video. When including a making-of look at the music video, but not the feature, you know you've got problems.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's encouraging that, in between this film and About Schmidt, Nicholson is starting to embrace his mortality…or at least the November and December of his cinematic years. It's my hope that Nicholson can wow the public one last time with marvelous performances in similar films, because his last few films have begun to tarnish the reputation. He went from a subtle, nuanced actor to one that seems to yell a lot…kind of like Al Pacino, and that bill is already paid.
The Comcast Network's Tim Estiloz says The Bucket List is "Hysterically Funny and Deeply Heartwarming." As one who saw none of the former and quick glimpses of the latter, I have to think that Estiloz is, to borrow a phrase from Charles Barkley, "on the weed." Nicholson and Freeman try, but Reiner and Zackham sleepwalk through this one and virtually abandon their stars in the process. It's that complacency and laziness that make this a forgettable film and worth avoiding, even when it airs on television.
Reiner and Zackham are found guilty and sentenced to watch extensive blocks of programming on the Independent Film Channel in order to reclaim their mojo.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Subtitled Trivia Track
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